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Backpacker Magazine – March 2014

Hike Smarter: 4 Ways to Hike right

Learn how to stay dry in a storm, navigate without a compass, and walk right.

by: Backpacker Editors

1. Treat your feet

Get boots that fit: snug in the heel, but with enough room in the forefoot to allow for inevitable swelling on long days with a pack. Allow plenty of time to walk around in the store, feeling for pressure points and blister-causing heel slip. Most stores have an incline board; check for movement with your foot pointing both up- and downhill. 

Use lightweight, breathable shoes (when trail conditions and weather allow). They’ll reduce heat buildup, and heat accelerates blisters.

Break in heavy boots on dayhikes and around town.

Keep your socks dry (change into a new pair if needed); air your feet at rest breaks.

Treat hot spots proactively with a nonstretch sports tape like Leukotape (plain old duct tape also works).    

Cut your toenails short.

Use a lubricant like Body Glide to reduce friction in problem areas. 

Lace boots with precision comfort: Tie an overhand loop at the ankle to create a locking twist, and repeat at each eyelet (see below). Adjust tension where needed, or even skip an eyelet altogether.

Got a blister anyway? Use Glacier Gel ($10;

2. Stay dry in a storm

Start with a shell that extends below your hips, so there’s no gap between jacket and pants where rain can sneak in. Cinch the hem snugly. 

Roll up the cuffs of your baselayer so they don’t wick water up your sleeves, and cinch your jacket’s cuffs. Avoid raising your arms (giving water easier access to your cuffs) and shorten your trekking poles so your wrists are angled down.

Keep your hood snug, and wear a waterproof/breathable, billed cap (like Outdoor Research’s Revel; $27; underneath to enhance face protection in the worst weather. 

Wear gaiters with your rain pants when you’re walking through leg-soaking, wet brush. 

Don’t sweat. Even the most breathable raingear can be overwhelmed from the inside if your exertion is too great for the temps. Getting steamy? Open every pit zip and vent, shed layers, and, if needed, simply slow down. In warm, humid conditions, skip the jacket and use an umbrella (see page 65).  

Keep your stuff dry. Use a pack liner or dry bags, and don’t expose dry gear to the rain during breaks. Shadow stick Stand a 3-foot stick vertically in the ground and mark the tip of its shadow with a rock. Wait at least 15 minutes, then mark the shadow again. The connecting line roughly indicates east-west (south is on the sun side of the line).

Problem Fix
Baselayer is soaked Wring it out, then suck it up-brrrr-and wear it dry with body heat.
Hipbelt running you raw Pad sore areas with socks
Cold feet Put plastic baggies over socks, under boots
Cold hands, no gloves Use socks as mittens
Ascending a loose scree field In s group, zigzag up so sliding rocks don't hit hikers below
Bushwacking through dense bush Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, cinch all pack straps, store items inside. Really dense? Punch through a wall of bush pack first.

3. Navigate without a compass

Stars Find the Big Dipper. Extend an imaginary line through the two stars at the end of the outer cup to a medium-bright star (about five times the “distance” between the two Big Dipper stars). This is the North Star. 

In the eastern and Midwestern prairies, look for the bright yellow bloom of a compass plant. Its leaves generally align along the north-south axis.

Hold an analog watch level, with the  hour hand pointing to the sun. South is halfway between the hour hand and the 12 (
Northern Hemisphere only).   Yes, there’s a wrong way to put one foot in front of the other. Avoid these three mistakes: 

4. Walk right

Over-striding T
aking giant steps can lead to overuse injuries like strained quads and hip bursitis. Shorter steps minimize pounding and muscle exertion, making your stride more energy efficient even though you take more steps overall.

Forefoot striking This is OK for running, not walking. Pounding on the forefoot (rather than gradually rocking the foot from back to front) can cause foot and leg problems, including the very painful metatarsalgia.

Shuffling You want to push off with your toes with each new step. Omitting this final toe-off phase (by shuffling or dragging your feet) jars joints from head to toe.

Inside job: Avoid lashing heavy items to the outside of your pack. They’ll throw you off balance and stress pack seams.  

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Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Mar 31, 2014

Navigate using your compass! When you lose sight of the trail and landmarks, stay found by using a compass and reading Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon). This book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Before you hike, be sure to calibrate your compass to the declination of the trail. Go to: A compass doesn't need satellites, a signal, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart". Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation, not just while hiking. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. Learn what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors.


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